An Elkhart man is entitled to a new trial on drug charges after the Indiana Court of Appeals found the police failed to “scrupulously honor” his right to remain silent.
Efren Mendoza-Vargas was charged and convicted of Class A felony dealing in methamphetamine, Class D felony maintaining a common nuisance and Class D felony possession of marijuana. The Elkhart County Interdiction and Covert Enforcement team executed a warrant at the home where Mendoza-Vargas lived. He was handcuffed while police searched the home. They found large amounts of money, methamphetamine and marijuana.
ICE employee Jennifer Gomez, who is fluent in English and Spanish, read Mendoza-Vargas his Miranda rights in Spanish. He said he understood these rights. He shook his head “no” as to whether he wanted to answer questions. But police kept asking him questions, even one about rubber bands found in the house. He was given a few minutes to decide whether he wanted to answer questions.
After 10 minutes, an officer asked Mendoza-Vargas if he could ask a question, then asked if his “contact” was in Indiana. Mendoza-Vargas then explained he got the drugs from Mexico.
Instead of immediately ceasing any questions after Mendoza-Vargas indicated he didn’t want to talk, police kept questioning him. And officers never re-read Mendoza-Vargas his Miranda rights again after he began answering questions, Judge Paul Mathias wrote.
The trial court abused its discretion when it admitted his statements to police into evidence because police “failed to scrupulously honor Mendoza-Vargas’s right to remain silent,” the judges held in Efren Mendoza-Vargas v. State of Indiana, 20A03-1201-CR-27.
This was not a harmless error, but he may be retired without the admittance of the statements to police.